Teens Now: Q&A with a USC freshman who spent her first year of college online

Teens Now is a series by Grace Lee that features teens around the world who have inspired others in creative ways. This week’s article highlights Katlyn Hwang, a freshman at the University of Southern California, who has spent her first year of college completely remotely.

When Katlyn Hwang received her acceptance letter to the University of Southern California in the mail, she was overjoyed at all the new experiences she would gain during her first year of college.

After graduating from Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Calif., she looked forward to a year of meeting new people from all around the world, exploring the city she would call home for the next four years and studying deep into the night in the library.

However, those dreams were instantly crushed after USC announced that all students would be learning remotely due to COVID-19. Hwang, who is majoring in Biomedical Engineering, talked about what it’s like being a freshman in quarantine.

I know this situation is clearly not what you expected when you were envisioning your first year at college — specifically in terms of your academics and social life. How has your college lifestyle changed due to COVID-19?

Obviously, without COVID-19, I would’ve been taking classes in person. That would’ve given me a better opportunity to grow closer with professors, meet new people and get that college experience that everyone looks forward to.

With chemistry, labs come with the class and I feel like labs definitely would’ve been more fun if it was in person. But, because it’s online, we had to use simulations.

We didn’t get that full experience that college students would normally get. In terms of meeting classmates, it was definitely more difficult. I feel like you can still reach out to other people through Instagram DMs or Facebook pages, but it’s difficult to know someone and who they are online, as opposed to in person.

Despite this being an unprecedented situation, how have you been able to make the most out of your college experience?

With the few friends I’ve made, I keep in touch with them often. Even though we aren’t in each other’s presence, just being on the phone like that sometimes can make us feel like we’re together. A few of them I have met through classes and some I met through Instagram.

One girl that I’m probably closest with, I met her because we were supposed to be roommates before we found out that housing was going to be canceled. We have a lot of similar classes, so we were able to get closer through that.

You’ve also done a part of your high school senior year online, and now you’re doing your college freshman year online. Do you think online high school was harder or is online college harder?

I would definitely say online college. I didn’t really know what I was expecting when I went into college. I knew it was going to be much more fast-paced than high school classes because, in college, we learn a new chapter every 2 days.

In high school, because we have a year for those classes, you can spend more time on the material. But in college, we have an even shorter amount of time, because our semester got cut to 13 weeks. It felt more rushed and even if you were falling behind I had to teach myself.

A lot of people say that another big part of the college experience is clubs. Have you joined any clubs this year?

I’ve joined one club called, KASA (Korean American Student Association). Because we can’t meet in person, we have game nights and activities through Zoom. In the first meeting, I would say a majority of students were returning students and a few were freshmen.

I think the freshmen got split up evenly into different breakout rooms of around 10 people. We played games in the breakout room and it was super fun. Everyone was so open and welcoming. The tension was really high and everyone was laughing and having a good time. It made me feel very welcomed, despite it being my very first time at a meeting.

What’s the number one thing you look forward to doing when you get back on campus?

I know USC is very well known for their football games so when we do go back on campus, I can’t wait to go to those football games and be with my classmates — I really want to feel that Trojan spirit. I also look forward to the smallest things, like getting dining hall food or having a night in with my roommates.

Having experienced almost a year of college, what advice would you give to students who are planning for college?

I would say to truly look into a school and pick a school that is the best fit for you. I know people who chose schools that had higher rankings but were not good fits for them.

Despite them being on campus, they keep telling me that their experience is not that great. I would say, really before you commit to a college, ask yourself if you can see yourself at that school and if you think it has what you think is most important for your future.

I actually toured the school for the very first time in May 2019. Growing up, I think our family was more of a Bruin family than a Trojan family. But, I stepped on campus and took the tour and I loved it.

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